Reigning European Champions Italy will have to bring their A-game to secure a spot in the 2022 World Cup as they take on Northern Ireland. Italy infamously did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup and will be determined not to make the same mistake.
Italy is currently top of Group C in the European qualifiers of the World Cup. However, they are level on points with Switzerland, separated only by the goal difference. Northern Ireland on the other hand are 3rd in the group and will not be qualifying into the World Cup.
After their impressive performance in the Euro 2020, which saw them lift the trophy, Italy has not had great results. Even if the Azzurri’s are able to win the match, their direct qualification to the World Cup next year will depend on the result between Switzerland and Bulgaria.
NORTHERN IRELAND v ITALY: MATCH PREVIEW
The recent Italy form has been mixed, only winning 2 of their six games after the Euro Cup triumph. Two draw against Switzerland in the Qualifiers means both sides are level on point. A qualification could have been much easier today, as Jorginho missed a late penalty against Switzerland a few days back, forcing them to share the points.
Northern Ireland on the other hand will be playing for their pride. The team will not be able to qualify as they only have 8 points, 7 points behind Italy and Switzerland.
Two factors that will go in favour of Northern Ireland are the home advantage and the injury issues of their opponents. The match is being played at Windsor Park, Belfast.
TEAM NEWS AND POSSIBLE LINE-UPS
The host goes into the match with a full squad and does not have any major injury concerns. However, this is not the same for the Italians. The Azzurri’s are without some of their major players including Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Pellegrini and captain Giorgio Chiellini.
The absence of Immobile will be of bigger concern for manager Roberto Mancini. The Lazio forward is a key figure for the European champions and act as the main centre-forward. The leadership of Chiellini will also be missed, while Pellegrini has been one of the in-form players in Serie A this season.
Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell; Cathcart, Jonny Evans, McNair; Dallas, McCann, Davis, Saville, Lewis; Washington, Magennis
Italy: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Acerbi, Emerson; Barella, Jorginho, Locatelli; Chiesa, Belotti, Insigne
PREDICTIONS: NORTHERN IRELAND 0 – 2 ITALY
Even though there are injuries, Italy is one of the best sides in the World at the moment. The ability of the team was in full display during Euro 2020. Thus any recent dip in form is temporary and the Italians will comfortably overcome the host Northern Ireland.
However, with only the group winner getting the direct World Cup qualification, the situation is tricky. Switzerland is facing Bulgaria. If both the Swiss and the Italians win, the goal difference will become the decider. Italy currently has a 2 goal advantage, and unless the Swiss are able to produce something magical, a comfortable victory would be enough for Mancini and his men.
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